Music Festivals

Why SunFest’s Bizarre Booking Strategy Is Brilliant

Walking into SunFest is a bit like thumbing through the Cheesecake Factory's menu for the first time. Your eyes start to water before you even make it to the pasta section. There's so many choices, your stomach starts to turn at the thought of making a decision. And they haven't even brought out the bread yet.

The crowd at SunFest can be disorienting too. South Floridians of all walks of life come together in one place at one time. There are old and young, rich and poor. There are those who are there to get drunk and those who are there to listen to music. Little kids playing tag dart in between the legs of college students. Families push strollers, and dads get angry elbows thrust into their ribs for staring at 20-somethings in jean shorts for a second too long. 

But all of this — all these odd crossing of paths — it's what makes SunFest so great. 

Because in a world of genre-specific music festivals and concerts, SunFest is a rare Crock-Pot that seemingly obeys absolutely no logic whatsoever. And it's awesome.  It’s easy to laugh at SunFest’s past lineups. After all, they tend to sound like the Spotify playlists of an excited puppy who just discovered music for the first time. 2014 brought us the strange stew of Goo Goo Dolls, Ellie Goulding, Robin Thicke, Dick Dale, as well as the unnatural sandwich of Alice in Chains, Austin Mahone, and Dropkick Murphys. In 2013, SunFest had one very confusing greenroom filled with Kendrick Lamar, Train, Smashing Pumpkins, Mac Miller, Yellowcard, Barenaked Ladies, and Slightly Stoopid.


2012 brought Snoop Dogg and Creed together. In 2011, Cee Lo Green and Jeff Beck were shoved onto the same stage, fortunately (or unfortunately) not at the same time. And if we reach far back into our memory banks, we’ll remember — and oh, how could we forget? — 2010’s mishmash of Weezer, Patti LaBelle, Nas & Damien Marley, and Smash Mouth.

This year, fans can look forward to the odd pairing of Friday's headliners, Kaskade and 311. On Saturday, the Stone Temple Pilots with new frontman Chester Bennington from Linkin Park will play a few football fields away from rapper Schoolboy Q. And on the final day of SunFest 2015, the Pixies, Awolnation, Boston, Fall Out Boy, Matisyahu, and others will be drawing in fans who might have otherwise interacted only at the checkout line in Publix.  But all this kooky variance — it's all a really good idea.

And it's especially smart when you consider location. SunFest takes place in West Palm Beach, a city itself in the midst of an identity crisis, brimming all at once with wrinkly little nonagenarians and young professionals fresh out of college who Uber their way to Clematis Street every weekend. Young artists fighting conformity share the streets with old veterans who remember fighting Hitler. A city like that demands a little variety.

And when it comes to SunFest’s lineup, variety is an understatement. Saying SunFest has variety is like calling Bill Gates “financially secure.” 

And SunFest isn’t just diverse; it’s like college brochure diverse. There’s an inuit in a wheelchair on page two and an Amazonian tribesman holding a MacBook Air on the cover. Gary Busey couldn’t book a crazier lineup. 

But for now, we can't see why that's a bad thing. After all, what interesting person has ever walked into a room and thought, Gee, I'm sure glad everyone here is exactly like me?

SunFest attendees and Deerfield Beach residents Gigi Farina and Dominique Dimeglio have been coming to the festival for the past five years and have always loved the choices SunFest's lineup provides. “Here they give you options. You have country here. You’ll have a rap artist there. They appeal to everybody,” Dimeglio told New Times.

Dimeglio and Farina both agree that SunFest has exposed them to artists they might have never known. Though, Farina does have one complaint with this year's lineup. “They don’t have enough country this year," she says. Day one of SunFest brought Wilco and Lenny Kravitz to the Intracoastal. The two acts might not raise too many eyebrows if put on the same playlist, but, still, the crowd in downtown West Palm Beach was every bit as disparate as one would hope. Except for the unfortunate fact that an overwhelming majority in attendance were Caucasian. But other than that, they were a mixed bag.

Hopefully SunFest won't start making sense any time soon. Because if it suddenly decides to put itself into a category, it wouldn't be anywhere near as interesting. 

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Ryan Pfeffer is Miami New Times’ music editor. After earning a BS in editing, writing, and media from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor, where he coined the phrase "pee-tweet" (to retweet someone while urinating). Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, he’s now neck-deep in bass and booty in the 305.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer